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  • CORP 2004 & Geomultimedia04 Ed. / Hg.: Manfred Schrenk, ISBN: 3-901673-11-2, www.corp.at 185

    Civic Networks of the Srem District Overcoming or Indicating the Digital Divide? Mirjana DEVETAKOVIC RADOJEVIC

    Mirjana Devetakovic Radojevic, MSc, Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade, Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra 73/2, 11000 Beograd, Serbia, eaoyu@ptt.yu

    1 INTRODUCTION The phenomenon of digital divide has been examined recent years from many different viewpoints. There is still a variety of definitions and a range of propositions for its examination and measuring. According to the OECD reports: digital divide refers to the gap between individuals, households, business and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities. Civic networks are regarded as one of such activities, where the Internet has been used to reflect civic life of the particular region. Measuring the digital divide is mainly based on comparative statistics, primarily in an international context. In this paper, results of qualitative observations of the civic networks are considered as a possible indicator of the digital divide overcome in a regional context.

    2 STATISTICAL INDICATORS OF DIGITAL DIVIDE IN SERBIA In Serbia, it is still not possible to measure more precisely the effects like digital divide because of a lack of relevant detailed statistical information, but there are some observations, data and estimations published out of official statistical institutions:

    Fixed plus mobile telecommunication paths - There is 2 700 000 fixed telephone lines in Serbia and 1.5 million users of the mobile telephony. Considering the fact that there are 10 million inhabitants in Serbia this gives about 23 fixed and mobile access paths per 100 inhabitants. Compared with the OECD countries (Figure 1) it is one third of the OECD average and three times more than Non-OECD average.

    41,1

    52,257,5

    64,1

    72,1

    2,70 4,70 5,506,60 7,80

    0

    10

    20

    30

    40

    50

    60

    70

    80

    1990 1995 1996 1998 1999

    OECD

    Non-OECD

    Figure 1 Fixed plus mobile telecommunication access paths per 100 inhabitants in Serbia and Montenegro compared with OECD and non-OECD

    countries (source OECD, 2002)

    Internet access Serbia and Montenegro has been (re)connected to the Internet in February 1996 via the academic links. In next couple of years, numerous providers appeared offering different Internet based services. The history of Internet in Yugoslavia begins in 1996 when the Yugoslav Academic Network was connected to the Internet through the provider BeoTelNet. All Internet services became available to users in Yugoslavia, but the user population was confined to academic circles (faculty and scientific institute associates). That very year, first national providers operating on a commercial basis started working, making Internet available to non-academic users as well. As early as 1997, the first scientific conference on Internet was held (SITJ, 1997). By 2002, the number of Internet providers had risen to 60. The major ones are Eunet (http://www.EUnet.yu, capacity of terrestrial link 34Mbs, capacity of satellite link 45Mbs), in private ownership, and PTT Srbija NET (http://www.ptt.yu, capacity 16Mbs), in state ownership (Figure 3, left). Seventeen magazines oriented towards computer and Web users are being published (the best one is Svet kompjutera, http://www.sk.co.yu), some ten odd search engines are in operation (most thorough, most popular and most efficient being Krstarica, http://www.krstarica.com.yu), while the number of registered domains rose to 13 thousand in April 2002. In relation to the size of its population, according to the aforesaid index, Yugoslavia lags behind Slovenia and Croatia, is slightly ahead of Macedonia and considerably ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina (http://www.yutrend.com, 2002). (Bacevic, 2003). At the moment the Internet is accessible via modem connections from any place equipped with phone lines. Individual users of the Internet are charged approximately 0,3 per hour plus phone call prices, which is still quite expensive comparing with average incomes. For a limited number of users in certain urban areas (Berlgrade) the Internet is accessible via cable connections and some experimental wireless services are started to appear as well.

    According to some recent estimations, number of the Internet users in Serbia ranges from 300 000 (Jovanovic, 2002) to 500 000 (Jokanovic, 2002), where more of a half uses the Serbian Academic network.

    Serbia and Montenegro

  • Mirjana DEVETAKOVIC RADOJEVIC

    186 MULTIMEDIAPLAN.AT & IEMAR 9th International Symposion on Planning & IT

    23

    34

    55

    82

    0,21 0,38 0,59 0,852,534,9 7,71

    10,5415 15,7

    0

    10

    20

    30

    40

    50

    60

    70

    80

    90

    1997 1998 1999 1999 2000 2001

    OECDNon-OECDSerbia and Montenegro

    Figure 2 Internet hosts per 1000 inhabitants in Serbia and Montenegro (source World Resources Institute, 2003) compared with OECD and non-

    OECD countries (source OECD, 2002)

    Figure 3 Topology of the Internet access nodes of the PTT YU provider (left) and the new academic SinYU Backbone (right), with the Srem region highlighted

    Figure 4 Civic networks of Serbia and Montenegro in 2000 (source Bajic Brkovic, Milovanovic 2000) and actual entry pages of the civic networks of Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica and Ni

  • Civic Networks of the Srem District Overcoming or Indicating the Digital Divide?

    CORP 2004 & GeoMultimedia04 February 2004, Vienna, Austria 187

    3 CIVIC NETWORKS OF THE SREM DISTRICT The Srem district is part of Vojvodina region (Serbia and Montenegro). It is situated at the northeast part of the country, between two branches of the Pan-European communication corridor X, tangenting two important nodes, Belgrade (the capital of the country) and Novi Sad (the capital of the Vojvodina region). The district is administratively divided into seven municipalities Sremska Mitrovica, Stara Pazova, Ruma, Indjija, Sid, Pecinci and Irig (Figure 5).

    Figure 5 Map of the Srem District (source Camber of Economy of Srem - http://www.rpksrem.co.yu/index_eng.php) with indicators of civic networks

    The detailed statistics relevant for the digital divide examination (number of the Internet hosts, number of households and individuals with the Internet access, level of the Internet using, etc.) are not available on the regional level. Certain statistics, however, like the one indicating the percent of inhabitants living in agricultural households (Figure 6, right), could be taken as an indicator of the digital divide on the regional level.

    85328

    57291

    44185

    11696

    55087

    36317

    20077

    0100002000030000400005000060000700008000090000

    Srem

    ska

    Mitr

    ovic

    a

    Star

    a Pa

    zova

    Indj

    ija Irig

    Rum

    a

    id

    Pei

    nci

    Total Number of Inhabitants

    16,8

    10,1 11,6

    22,9

    15,7

    23,4

    29,2

    0,0

    5,0

    10,0

    15,0

    20,0

    25,0

    30,0

    35,0

    Srem

    ska

    Mitr

    ovic

    a

    Star

    a Pa

    zova

    Indj

    ija Irig

    Rum

    a

    id

    Pei

    nci

    % of inhabitants inagriculturalhouseholds

    Figure 6 Total number of inhabitants in the Srem District municipalities and the percentage of inhabitants living in agricultural households

    A topography of civic networks in Serbia and Montenegro in 2000 (Figure 4, left, according to Bajic Brkovic, Milovanovic 2000) show a significant concentration of civic networks in the region of Vojvodina and metropolitan area of Belgrade. In terms of the civic network development, the Srem district, remain isolated until 2001 when a considerable number of civic network initiations grew up (Figure 9).

  • Mirjana DEVETAKOVIC RADOJEVIC

    188 MULTIMEDIAPLAN.AT & IEMAR 9th International Symposion on Planning & IT

    3.1 Background All civic networks in the Srem district appeared after 2000, four years from the country reconnection to the Internet. An observation of the Srem district civic networks started in 2002, when there were eight cases of civic networks (in six towns and two villages) and one newsgroup operating since 1999. Their appearance was a promising indication of an activity towards overcoming the digital divide. At the end of 2003, however, it was surprise to find out that some of analyzed civic networks disappeared (id, Novi Banovci). Reasons for that we could find in a lack of foundings, a low interest of local communities and a low level of usage of information technologies in the region.

    3.2 Cases In the table below (Table 1) an overview of all civic networks that ever appeared in the Srem district is given. Among the civic networks founders, the most important role certainly play enthusiastic individuals, either working independently (Irig, Vojka, Beka) or affiliated with local institutions (local radio/newspaper (Stara Pazova), city council (Novi Banovci). A very important influence have local Internet providers, launching presentations independently (Sremska Mitrovica) or in collaboration with city councils (Ruma). The latest cases show intentions of city councils to engage specialized institutions to develop information systems fully serving citizens in their quotidian communication with official bodies (Indjija).

    Founder

    Municipality Internet provider, IT consulting firm

    Local radio / newspaper

    Individual City council Year

    Sremska Mitrovica

    http://www.mirtovica.co.yu 2001 - now

    Stara Pazova http://www.stara-pazova.org.yu/ 2000 - now Vojka http://utenti.lycos.it/vojka1416/prva.htm Novi Banovci

    http://www.banovci.co.yu* 2002 - 2003

    Indjija http://www.indjija.net 2002 - now Beska http://www.beska.net 1999 - now

    Ruma http://www.ruma.co.yu 2001 - now Irig http://www.yumreza.org.yu/irig 2001 - now id http://www.sid.co.yu* 2001 - 2003 Pecinci - *not available anymore

    Table 1 Civic Networks of the Srem District

    Sremska Mitrovica The official presentation of Sremska Mitrovica, the biggest city and a sort of capital of the Srem district, hardly belongs to the civic network category. It is a city postcard type of presentation with a strong orientation towards historical and cultural subjects. It is designed and maintained by the regional Internet provider Net022.

    Stara Pazova This is the first civic network of the Srem district. It appeared in 2000, after its founder attended a seminar titled Management and the Internet. Although not fully institutionalized yet, a significant part of this civic network maintenance is going on within the local informative centre (local radio station). It is still more oriented towards information delivery, than to an interaction on the civic level. The network offers access to all forms and instructions important for communication with the city council, but an electronic submission of documents and requests is still not available. Within the municipality of Stara Pazova two villages appeared on the Internet independently of the official web site.

    Vojka Web site of the Vojka village is a presentation containing just couple of pages, offering basic information related to this old settlement and its history, as well as some specific information like index of family names or virtual gallery of paintings. This presentation is based on an individual initiative and it is hosted on the Italian free Lycos server, so it shows up a bar with the Lycos advertisements. Novi Banovci The civic network of Novi Banovci is not available anymore. The most important part of this presentation was quite well conceptualized public forum with a range of important local topics offered for the public discussion. Indjija - There was a trial to establish a civic network in 2001, and an entry (only) page of this old trial is still available on the Net (http://www.indjija.com). The current system (http://www.indjija.net) is the second version of the civic network funded by the actual city council of Indjija. This is the last in the range of civic networks of the Srem region, launched in 2002, and the only one that appeared on the direct request of the city officials. Beka The Beka Group is a special case in this study. It is actually a news group, based on the Yahoo e-Groups system, gathering networked citizens of Beka and the ex-citizens of this village currently residing around the world. It is founded in 1999. The dynamics of information exchange varied over the time, but it never stopped, so the system remains active five years. The most intensive communication, according to the Group statistics (Figure 7), is registered during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, from March to June 1999.

  • Civic Networks of the Srem District Overcoming or Indicating the Digital Divide?

    CORP 2004 & GeoMultimedia04 February 2004, Vienna, Austria 189

    Figure 7 The amount of messages exchanged since 1999 within the Beka group

    Ruma A similar case as Sremska Mitrovica, the civic network of Ruma is created by the local IT consulting firm, but all information is copyrighted by the Municipality of Ruma. Another postcard like presentation with a small amount of information dedicated to the citizens with no tools for a real interaction.

    Irig The case of Irig is an exception in this study. A town presentation with just a few attributes of civic network, sustained for more than two years as a result of the effort of an IT literate individual being originally from Irig but residing elsewhere.

    Municipalities

    Villages

    Figure 8 Entry pages of the Srem district civic networks (the empty fields belong to the civic networks that existed but disappeared in the meantime)

    The entry pages of the Srem district civic networks (Figure 8) compared with the ones of Belgrade and Novi Sad (Figure 4, right), indicate a lower dynamics of information exchange, less sophisticated interfaces and a general absence of professional, methodological approach to the civic network creation and maintaining. Next systematization (Table 2) has been done according to the following five criteria for evaluation of civic networks (Bajic Brkovic, Milovanovic 2000): areas and topics they cover, their internal structure, types and quality of communication (internal and external) they provide, population groups they serve, and level (if any) of interactiveness that is built in.

    id

    Novi Banovci

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    190 MULTIMEDIAPLAN.AT & IEMAR 9th International Symposion on Planning & IT

    The Entry Page Particular areas and topics Internal

    Structure Communication Target Groups Interactions

    Sremska Mitrovica

    static

    An interactive gallery

    of the city photographs

    News, Forum

    Municipality, City, Economy, Education, Culture Religion, Tourism Health, Sport, Media

    City postcardInfo broadcast.

    Visitors Citizens

    Forum

    Stara Pazova

    dynamic (update)

    Map of industrial zone - investment

    opportunities

    Citizen service

    Welcome (news) Municipality History, Health, Education, Culture, Sport, Media, NGOs, Business Database

    Info broadcast.Citizen service

    Visitors Citizens Investors Business

    -

    Vojka (village)

    static

    -

    A single page presentation - Important phone numbers, Index of family names, Gallery

    Village postcard

    Visitors -

    Indjija

    static

    Municipality news (updated)

    Municipality guide, Communication with Municipality official bodies, SMS ommunication Business Database

    Citizen service

    Citizens Visitors Business

    Personalized access to the communication

    area

    Beska (village)

    dinamic (news group)

    - - - Ex-citizens Citizens

    The system is based on interaction among a group of members interested in issues

    related to the village

    Ruma

    dynamic (old news) Interactive map

    About the City; Economy, Culture and Sport; Citizen info; Contacts; Site index

    City postcardCitizen service

    Visitors Citizens -

    Irig

    static Local advertisements

    News; Advertisements

    Settlements; History; Inhabitants; Economy; Events; Geography; Other

    City postcardCitizen service

    Visitors Citizens

    Message pinup board

    Table 2 Main characteristics of the Srem district civic networks

  • Civic Networks of the Srem District Overcoming or Indicating the Digital Divide?

    CORP 2004 & GeoMultimedia04 February 2004, Vienna, Austria 191

    3.3 Civic Networks of the Srem District as Indicator of Digital Divide In the case of the Srem district, the civic networks indicate an early development stage, with the contents progressing slowly and inefficiently. Majority of them belong to the category of city presentations, with rare functionalities of civic networks. A perspective for their continuity and further development is uncertain. A lack of funding and general support caused interrupting of the activity of two civic networks (id and Novi Banovci) while one municipality within the district (Peinci) has never been presented on the Internet (Figure 9).

    1

    5

    8

    6

    0

    2

    4

    6

    8

    10

    2000

    2001

    2002

    2003

    Figure 9 Number of Civic Networks of the Srem District

    Behind a majority of civic network initiatives of the Srem district, there is activity of enthusiastic individuals having a sort of natural need to present their towns on the Internet. Depending on their IT skills, professional affiliations and ability to sustain with their activities for a critical amount of time, the initial city presentations develop and acquire attributes of civic networks. Collaboration with city councils is an important step in the city networks progress.

    There is no clear evidence of the civic networks usage, like daily/monthly access, the most frequently visited contents, etc. More than 90% of all contents represent a one-way communication, i.e. information delivery. A significant part of information is static, and has not been changed for a couple of months, in some cases since the civic network establishment. Participation of citizens in the electronic civic life is modest and limited to the topics of general importance rather than to the particular local problems.

    4 CONCLUSION In the case of the Srem district that has been observed for two years, there seems to be a correlation between some statistical data indicating the level of digital divide (Figure 6), and development of civic networks on the regional level. Municipalities with a high percent of agricultural households (Pecinci 23,4 and id 29,2) are the ones where civic networks never existed or disappeared during the time. On the other hand, municipalities with the lower percent of agricultural households (Indjija 11,6 and Stara Pazova 10,1) develop the most promising civic networks. This correlation needs to be examined further once the other statistics are available (number of the Internet hosts, number of PCs, the Internet usage, etc.) in this and other districts of the region, with aim to find out whether a development of civic networks could be a certain indicator of the digital divide overcome.

    5 REFERENCES Bajic Brkovic M., Milovanovic D.: Civic Networks: an Overview, on-line magazine Adriatico 2000, http://www.adriatico.unian.it/research/Baijc.htm Bacevic, L.: Development of the Internet in Yugoslavia, in Spassov, O. and Todorov Ch. (eds.) (2003), New Media in Southeast Europe. SOEMZ, European University "Viadrina" (Frankfurt - Oder) and Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski", http://soemz.euv-frankfurt-o.de/media-see/newmedia/main/articles/l_bacevic.htm

    Jovanovic, Z.: Assessing Infrastructure, Telecommunications for Development, South Eastern Conference on Policy and Cooperation in Telecommunications, Belgrade, 2002, http://www.arii.sr.gov.yu/ICT_Conference/ZoranJovanovic/Assessinginfrastructure.ppt

    Jankovic, D.: State of the Information and Telecommunication Sector in FR Yugoslavia, Building National and Regional ICT Brands for Digital Economy, Vilnus, Lithuania, 2002, http://www.infobalt.lt/docs/jakanovic.ppt

    Milovanovic, D: Civic Networks: Yugoslav Cities, ISOCARP Conference, 2001, http://www.isocarp.org/Data/case_studies/cases/cs01_1201/

    Statistical Yearbook of Yugoslavia, Federal Statistical Office, Belgrade, 2002

    Stojkovic, B.: Development of the Internet: Social, Political and Cultural Effects on the Serbian Society, in Spassov, O. and Todorov Ch. (eds.) (2003), New Media in Southeast Europe. SOEMZ, European University "Viadrina" (Frankfurt - Oder) and Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski", http://soemz.euv-frankfurt-o.de/media-see/newmedia/main/articles/b_stojkovic.htm

    Understanding the Digital Divide, OECD publication, 2001

    Internet resources:

    Anem Association of Independent Electronic Media www.anem.org.yu

    Bridges.org http://www.bridges.org

    Camber of Economy of Srem - http://www.rpksrem.co.yu/index_eng.php

    World Resources Institute - http://earthtrends.wri.org